Up From the Grave
A Lenten sod turning ceremony for a new water feature in the back garden of St. Aidan of the Wood Parish Church goes utterly pear-shaped when the upturned soil reveals a human skeleton. With Berdie Elliott at the helm, the whole of Aidan Kirkwood digs into the mystery. When the bones held life, just who was this person? Who is the mysterious contessa that arrives on the garden scene? And what does the young and beautiful Robin Derbyshire’s wedding have to do with the grave? Unearth the answers in this fun spring romp.
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Excerpt from Chapter Two of Up From the Grave: A Lenten Mystery by Marilyn Leach Published by Pelican Book Group, Nicola Martinez Editor
“And furthermore,” was all Wilkie managed to get out when another booming voice interrupted.
“Wilkie Gordon, do sit down.” The tall and commanding Colonel Preswood was on his feet; shoulders squared and jaw tight, spitting the words in the old dissenter’s direction. “For heaven’s sake man, get a grip.” Though his suit was nicely tailored and pressed, his broad features were sour as he addressed the crowd. “Our guest can do whatever she chooses with her money. Now let’s get on with what we’re here for.”
In haste Mr. Webb half whispered words of reassurance to the Countessa, “Don’t pay any mind to them,” and he pushed the shovel handle into her palm, pointing to the ground. “Now!” commanded the harassed council president.
Berdie watched Hugh who had now also risen to his feet. She knew he’d put things in place and restore the calm. But before he could speak, the countessa pushed the polished tool up to the hilt into the soil. Despite her spike heeled shoes, and with some labor, she turned its contents over. The woman’s face went pale. A voluble shriek escaped from the pink shimmering lips of Countessa Santolio.
All heads, as if observing a tennis match, moved from the Wilkie Gordon-Colonel Preswood drama to the elegant woman who threw the shovel down with such force it almost made a direct plant on Mr. Webb’s Italian leather shoe.
The head of council peered into the newly made hole. His face became morose.
Berdie watched Hugh place himself delicately to take a peek at what was causing such a reaction. Indeed, half the audience was now straining forward as if to catch a glimpse. The very proper Mrs. Plinkerton, a respected member of the parish council, was seated closest to the cavity and peered into the soil.
“Bones,” she screeched. Her aging face whitened and she fell back against her chair, as if to faint, sending her large pink hat on a tumble.
“Bones?” Berdie said aloud.
The council members next to Mrs. Plinkerton grabbed the hat and worked furiously to fan her.
Hugh raised his hands calmly. “Let’s keep our sensibilities. First, Edsel, would you please get Mrs. Plinkerton a glass of water?”
Edsel Butz made way to the church.
Hugh’s’ voice was clear and strong. “All our lands are open grazing. It’s very likely nothing more than the remains of a sheep.”
“You’ve desecrated a grave,” someone yelled in the crowd.
“Let’s not rush to judgment,” Hugh urged.
Berdie sensed someone bending towards her.
“What’s going on?” Dr. Loren Meredith’s voice could melt butter. “I just arrived. Looks a bit of a mad house.”
With Lillie’s love interest, the pathologist Dr. Loren Meredith, being so near, Berdie became aware of his unique scent. It was a combination of fresh scrubbed soap and a touch of mountain air. What a shame, she thought, that the rest of the afternoon wasn’t as pleasant as Dr. Meredith’s presence.
“I’m afraid the whole affair has gone a bit pear shaped,” Berdie responded. And not just before Constable Goodnight poked his considerable finger into the doctor’s shoulder.
“Need your services if you please,” the large law enforcement officer grumbled. “Come along.”
The handsome physician, shoulder length black hair pulled back from his slightly graying temples and fastened at the nape of his neck, followed Goodnight to the gauged earth.
The constable bellowed forth making his rotund shape heave. “Everyone sit down or I’ll arrest the lot of ‘ya.”
The constable’s boom sent baby Katy Donovan into a great crying frenzy which soon became a chorus when Dotty Butz and several other infants joined in. Few paid attention to Goodnight’s command.
Dr. Meredith bent close to the earth and pushed aside additional dirt revealing more remains.
Berdie’s curiosity got the better of her and deftly she stepped to the sight the doctor examined.
“Human, a little one,” the pathologist said discreetly and stood.
“Well, I never,” Berdie exhaled, “of all times and places.”
“Quite,” the doctor agreed.
The animated voice of Mr. Webb sounded. “Surely there’s been some mistake.”
Goodnight, standing next to Berdie, grunted, took a deep breath, and trumpeted across the crowd, “I’m declaring this a crime scene. You lot go home now.”
“Albert,” Mr. Webb challenged, “is this really necessary?”
“Do pigs grout?” Goodnight spurted.
There was the sound of a toppled chair and a voice cried out, “Reverend Elliott, Wilkie Gordon’s collapsed.”
Berdie caught her breath as Hugh, quite fit for a man his age, nearly hurdled the chairs to get to Mr. Gordon. A small group had gathered round.
“I appreciate your concern, but please stand back, give him room to breathe,” Hugh ordered.
Edsel, who had just given the glass of water to Mrs. Plinkerton, was next to Hugh moving people along as the vicar attended to the old gentleman.
“I said go home!” Goodnight bellowed like an evening fog horn.
Whipped by the swirl of events and Goodnights’ volume, a mad migration of people took flight for the front road. Chairs tipped and children were swept up. Mr. Webb hurriedly escorted the countessa and her aide back to her limousine and Dave Exton, who seemed to relish the action, went snap happy with his camera.
Dr. Meredith turned his attention to Hugh and Mr. Gordon. He took a step.
“Stay right here Doctor,” Goodnight barked, “Vicar’s doin’ a fine job.”
“Are you mad, Goodnight?” Dr. Meredith frowned, and moved quickly to Wilkie’s side.
Berdie took in the policeman. “Shouldn’t you be doing something to help Mr. Gordon, Constable Goodnight?”
“More important I keep an eye on this.” The law officer stabbed his thumb in the direction of the skeleton. “I shall be calling the Yard in on this,” he rumbled.
About the author
At the age of nine, Marilyn wrote her first play with a childhood neighbor, “The Ghost and Mr. Giltwallet”. It was a mystery. And she’s been writing in one form or another, hobby or livelihood, since. As well as teaching art, she’s had the opportunity to co-author several plays that have been performed on both church and secular stages, as well as two screenplays. Marilyn has had the good fortune of “discovering her roots” while visiting England where she developed lasting relationships with wonderful people there. It has greatly impacted her writing. A keen fan of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and David Cook’s Hetty Wainthropp series, Marilyn was inspired to write her Berdie Elliott Mystery series. It takes place in a small English village where the vicar’s wife, Berdie Elliott, is the divine sleuth. Marilyn lives lakeside in a cottage on the outskirts of Denver near the foothills.
Inspiration for Up from the Grave
These photos are of the local churchyard in the small village of Lastingham, Yorkshire, England. (Photos courtesy of Lillie Harris.) When we visited the church there, I was taken with how well groomed the churchyard was. And I’m sure there were no shallow graves with un-entombed bodies like there is in my story Up from the Grave. Still, it was a pleasure to view. Adding a water feature to a church garden isn’t especially common, but there are some English church gardens that have them, especially at historic abbeys. The English have long practiced burial of church members in the church garden, though it’s not as common today. It’s fascinating to see and read these ancient monuments that honor people from the past. It helped inspire my mystery. Cheers.